“Over the years, NIB has done wonderful work in fulfilling that mission,” explains Billy Parker, NSITE’s director of strategic partnerships. “But as technological innovations in recent years have expanded the types of careers people who are blind or visually impaired can move into, NIB wanted to reach out to the community beyond its associated agencies.” That reach, notes Parker, includes private-sector employers and job seekers who may or may not be connected to NIB associated agencies.

According to Parker, the continuum of employment services available to employers and job seekers makes NSITE unique. “Before NSITE, there was no single touchpoint covering both sides of the employment equation,” he says. “NSITE is a one-stop shop for employers and job seekers.”

NSITE Executive Director Jonathan Lucus explains that the enterprise is about more than job placement or finding talent. “We’re forging relationships between employers and job seekers in a way that isn’t being done anywhere else.” Developing those relationships, he notes, helps broaden NSITE’s reach into the community of job seekers who are blind or visually impaired and into the private-sector employment arena.

Broadening the Reach

Under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, vocational rehabilitation (VR) service programs established in U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and the five U.S. territories receive grants to provide services to people with disabilities. As an independent enterprise, NSITE has great latitude in working with those state vocational rehabilitation agencies, Parker explains.

Lucus notes that historically, state VR services were reluctant to venture beyond their own programs. Since the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted many of their in-person-only programs, the agencies have become more receptive to offering different types of training delivery.

NSITE, which offers all of its training programs online, has been a good solution for state agencies seeking new ways to assist the people they serve. Since its launch in 2021, NSITE has partnered with 23 state VR agencies to offer training, and is in partnership talks with many more.

The state VR agencies and NIB associated nonprofit agencies have always recognized that “we are all rowing in the same direction,” says NSITE Program Manager Doug Goist. “NIB associated agencies and state vocational rehabilitation agencies are always seeking new ways to develop and enhance the skills of employees and job-seeking clients. NSITE is combining those efforts and in doing so, broadening everyone’s reach.”

While partnerships with NIB associated agencies and with state vocational rehabilitation agencies have helped grow the pool of talent, relationship building on the employer side is also vital to NSITE’s success. And, as with the state VR agencies, the pandemic played a role in making employers more receptive to seeking talent for their open positions through NSITE.

NSITE for Employers

During the pandemic, employers realized that remote work was not only possible, but in many ways, even more effective in terms of productivity. In that way, the timing was fortuitous for NSITE’s launch. The pandemic helped employers realize that not all work had to be performed in an office, and that many employees preferred not to work in an office.

Remote work is particularly beneficial for people who are blind or visually impaired, explains Goist, because it removes a traditional barrier to employment that many of them had to overcome in the past: reliable transportation to and from a work location. In addition, the pandemic led to rapid development and adoption of the technology remote employees need to do their jobs from home, technology that benefits the workforce of people who are blind or visually impaired.

Lucus says the effective advocacy work done by NIB and other organizations to make employers aware of the talents of people who are blind or visually impaired — as well as the push for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace — has made employers more receptive to NSITE’s services. “Younger workers not only want diversity in the workplace,” says Lucus, “they expect it.”

To date, Parker says NSITE has teamed with Bristol Meyers Squibb, Capital One, Amazon, and the American Red Cross to land internships and jobs for NSITE participants. “These companies are doing incredible work. They’re breaking down long-standing barriers to employment for people who are blind and visually impaired.”

NSITE for Job Seekers

For job seekers who are blind, visually impaired and/or veterans, NSITE offers NSITE Connect, which lists job openings from NSITE employers. In addition, NSITE offers extensive training and development opportunities to help job seekers learn or hone skills to advance in their careers.

NSITE’s multiple points of entry are a bonus, says Lucus, because job seekers with work experience may not need in-depth training, but would want to use NSITE Connect to find new career opportunities. Job seekers lacking extensive work experience can use the training and development pathway to acquire the skills and experience needed to embark on their career of choice. “We meet people where they are in their careers,” explains Lucus.

Job seekers are coming to NSITE from a variety of sources, says Parker. While NIB associated agencies are referring some of their clients and many job seekers are working with state vocational rehabilitation programs, a healthy share of participants are not associated with either. “They’re finding us on their own,” he says.

NSITE offers more than employment opportunities, training, and development for people who are blind or visually impaired, explains Goist, who is himself blind. “For job seekers who are blind or visually impaired, doors aren’t exactly closed, but it’s more like they’re ajar, so it’s harder to push in. After a while, confidence starts to fade. NSITE gives these job seekers a real chance. It turns their world around, particularly when they participate in some of the training and development we offer. Their confidence skyrockets.”

Part 2 of this series will provide an overview of the variety if training opportunities available to job seekers who are blind or visually impaired through NSITE.